Syntax or nothing: Some theoretical and empirical remarks on implicit arguments

Andres Saab

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implicit argument; ellipsis; Spanish; Merge; feature; feature inheritance; theta role; thematic theory; se; causatives; arbitrary reading


I show that core implicit subjects in Spanish (i.e., the ones that occur with analytical passives, impersonal se, and causatives) can be derived from a theory under which absence of Merge in external subject position is a possible syntactic output. Core implicit arguments then have no syntactic representation (pace Landau 2010). Absence of Merge can make to arise two different scenarios: (i) a conflict at the interfaces, which requires the implementation of some repair strategy, (ii) no conflict at the interfaces; i.e., a legitimate object at the interfaces. The first scenario is illustrated with reference to the so-called impersonal se in Spanish, and the second one with reference to analytical passives. The proposed system is able to capture a set of very intricate facts that does not have a satisfactory solution hitherto. Crucially, this particular view on implicit arguments, together with a purely syntactic theory of argument structure, derives the full distribution of impersonals and reflexives in hacer ‘to make’ causative contexts. Finally, it is shown that the arbitrary readings that the two scenarios above described display have a different source: whereas impersonal se requires (costly) default computation at the interface, arbitrary interpretations in analytical passives are calculated at the vP level.   


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